There is often a whiff of bums-on-seats cynicism in the staging of novels which enjoy strong public recognition on account of their more famous film incarnations.
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However, while the draw of Ken Loach’s 1969 movie is undeniable, this telling of the adventures in falconry of Billy Casper, a neglected and bullied 15-year-old boy from a Yorkshire mining town, distinguishes itself as a work of original theatre.
Karen Tennent’s impressionistic-yet-functional set is built, cleverly, of the clutter of a broken aadolescence. At its heart is a vertiginous ramp, which lends itself to the fast pace of the often frightened Billy’s life, but also to the literal soaring of his beloved bird and the metaphorical flight of his soul when he is watching Kes take to the sky.
Theatre often excels at making a virtue out of a necessity, and the casting of just two actors – the superb young James Anthony Pearson as Billy, and the excellent and versatile Sean Murray as grown-up Billy and all the other characters – is a masterstroke. The switch back and forth between pathos and comedy which the actors achieve is truly brilliant.
Pearson has the sorely tested innocence of Billy down perfectly, as his youthful energy battles to maintain hope in the midst of psychopathic, disciplinarian teachers and the depredations of his rancid home life.
Director Gill Robertson has fashioned a drum-tight 70 minutes of theatre (which is best viewed, I’d say, by children aged 12 and over). Its flawless performances are beautifully facilitated by outstanding choreography by Janice Parker, careful lighting by Jeanine Davies and suitably emotive music by Danny Krass.